5 Positive Representations of Native Americans

As promised, I will be posting an image a day (on my facebook page) for Native American Heritage Month, an effort to reshape the way our collective consciousness imagines Native Americans. Here are five positive representations for you to consider…

“I do not drink. I do not do drugs. It’s part of my way of life I guess. My own personal beliefs. I’ve seen the affects of drugs and alcohol on my own reservation. Surrounding me in my community. And I just don’t want to live life like that. I guess I tried it out when I was in high school, but nothing good ever came from that. With the help and guidance of my parents and family, I came to my own realization that nothing positive was going to come from it. I just decided to quit. That was about 10 years ago. I haven’t drank or done any drugs since then. I try to give a positive message of leaving drugs and alcohol alone. I can’t just talk about it, I got to do it. So I lead by example. I can’t tell the kids, ‘don’t do drugs, don’t drink’, just for them to hear about me partying…? I’m trying to be a positive role model for the youth, for the community and for my own daughter.”

-Tatanka Means, Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo Nations

“When people say we live in two worlds, that is not how we understand it up north. We do not live in two worlds. We are not split in half. We do not strip our Indianness. We do not leave our Indianness at the door when we walk into a grocery store or an academic situation. We are who we are wherever we walk; and we carry all of that with us wherever we go. The fact is that we need Native American people everywhere- in every field. So if you are passionate about becoming a lawyer, or a doctor, or a fashion designer, or a filmmaker, do it! Whatever your strengths are, whatever your passions are, pursue them! Turn your passions into your career. And the very fact that you are Native American is going to add so much to that field. We need representation everywhere because we are so vastly under represented everywhere. We need you.”

-Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa

“There are no more herds of elk. There are no more herds of deer. There’s no wolves. There’s no bear. There’s barely any rabbits. All the geese are mostly gone. They used to be so thick they were black in the sky. How easy would that be to hunt? I could go shoot an arrow in the sky and I’d drop a bird. Now there are barely any birds. We used to traditionally fish for smelt… well the smelt didn’t run this year- they hardly run any more. You can’t be a ‘traditional Indian’ because the lifestyle is gone. So what does it mean to ‘be Indian’ then? Well I still practice my religion, I work on speaking my language; I honor my ancestors, and I try to keep my culture alive.”
- Guylish Bommelym, Tolowa Nation (Smith River Rancheria)

“The being part of human is energy. We forget the being part of human. That’s the danger. Next to the earth itself, it’s the largest spiritual danger that we are faced with right now is forgetting the being part of human. Because that is our spirit. It’s important to think as a human being. Re-acknowledge and re-recognize the being of the human.”

- John Trudell, Santee Sioux

John Trudell is an acclaimed poet, national recording artist, actor and activist whose international following reflects the universal language of his words, work and message. Trudell was a spokesperson for the Indian of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971. He then worked with the American Indian Movement (AIM), serving as Chairman of AIM from 1973 to 1979. In February of 1979, a fire of unknown origin killed Trudell’s wife, three children and mother-in-law. It was through this horrific tragedy that Trudell began to find his voice as an artist and poet, writing, in his words, “to stay connected to this reality.”

This is Starrburst Flower Montoya. Star is Barona and Taos Pueblo. She’s wearing her traditional Manta that is worn in ceremonies while in Taos. When I asked her about what it means to be an Indian in 2013 she said, “Well, my Grandma said it best- you have to learn to wear your moccasin on one foot and your tennis shoe on the other.”